Before beginning his exceptionally unnerving new book, go ahead and lock the door, but it won’t help. You’ll still be stuck inside yourself, which for Chaon is the most precarious place to be ... Chaon, who lost his own wife — the writer Sheila Schwartz — in 2008, captures the obscuring effects of grief with extraordinary tenderness. But he sows that misery in the soil of a literary thriller that germinates more terror than sorrow. There’s something irresistibly creepy about this story that stems from the thrill of venturing into illicit places of the mind ... Chaon’s great skill is his ability to re-create that compulsive sense we have in nightmares that we’re just about to figure everything out — if only we tried a little harder, moved a little faster ... Chaon’s novel walks along a garrote stretched taut between Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred Hitchcock. By the time we realize what’s happening, we’ve gone too far to turn back. We can only inch forward into the darkness, bracing for what might come next.
Following writers like Richard Matheson and Shirley Jackson,Dan Chaon writes in the spooky tradition of suburban gothic. His outstanding Ill Will hinges on unsolved murders over two time periods ... Central to Ill Will is its case study of delusion. Mr. Chaon connects the murder of Dustin’s parents to the satanic-ritual abuse hysteria of the 1980s, in which children were induced to testify to events that never happened ... An unreliable narrator can often feel like a cheap trick in the novelist’s playbook, but Mr. Chaon employs it masterfully, integrating unreliability into the book’s very typography ... the power of “Ill Will” is in its atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. Its eerily persuasive idea that we can’t trust our own minds left me with a shiver of.
With some of its twists and turns, Ill Will even seems to have anticipated our current world of fake news and 'alternative facts' ... The novel also taps into the toxic legacies of American class divisions. Dustin’s late wife, a lawyer, believed his 'white trash' background had consequences for him that went even deeper than he realized ... A few of Chaon’s tactics — his occasional use of double or triple columns of narrative, and his odd word spacing, both within paragraphs and vertically on the page — don’t always work. His knack for leaving sentences tellingly unfinished and thoughts menacingly incomplete, however, is perfect. If you’re up for being caught in a seamy heartland underbelly of fear, superstition, and paranoia, with side excursions through urban legend and recovered-memory hysteria, Ill Will is your book. But it may not be for everyone.